The operator of a tugboat that slammed into a sightseeing vessel in the Delaware River, killing two Hungarian tourists, was sentenced on Tuesday to a year and a day in prison.
Matthew Devlin, 35, had pleaded guilty in August to a criminal misconduct charge for his role in the tug's fatal crash into a Duck Boat that was afloat near Center City Philadelphia on July 7, 2010.
Prosecutors said Devlin, of Catskill, N.Y., was distracted by repeated telephone calls from his wife about their son's health and admitted he was in the lower wheelhouse using a laptop computer when the collision occurred.
The sentence handed down by U.S. District Court Judge Legrome Davis followed more than an hour of tearful, apologetic testimony from Devlin and his wife.
"There isn't a morning I don't wake up with a tremendous pit in my stomach that I was even involved in this accident," Devlin said. "And for this past year and four months, there hasn't been one night that we have laid in bed at ease."
"I am sorry that I called him," sobbed Corinne Devlin, a reference to her telephoning Devlin to tell him their son, then 5, had been starved for oxygen for eight minutes during a surgical procedure on his eyes at a New York hospital.
"I shouldn't have called him," she said, repeatedly dabbing her eyes during her testimony. "I was so nervous."
After Devlin completes the jail term, he must remain on supervised release — the federal version of probation — for three years, the judge said.
Before the sentence was handed down, heart-wrenching videotaped testimony was heard from the families of the two Hungarian tourists killed in the crash. Szabolcs Prem, 20, and Dora Schwendtner, 16. The other 35 people on board survived.
Schwendtner's mother, Aniko, said on the video she left everything in her daughter's room exactly as it was when she departed for the United States.
"Dora was so, so excited to be visiting the United States," she said.
Prem's father, Sandor, said his son had planned to settle in the United States.
Prosecutors also presented a video, taken from a U.S. Army facility on the New Jersey side of the river, that showed the tug, named the Caribbean Sea, pushing a barge and then plowing into the small Duck Boat, which sank and disappeared under the barge.
In imposing the sentence, the judge said, "This is a hard case, it's a very hard case."
He said Devlin should have asked for relief in steering the boat in view of his family's health crisis.
"I just think you could have stepped away," the judge said. "I don't know why you did not ask to be relieved."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Zauzmer said the judge was particularly lenient with Devlin because of "mitigrating circumstances," including no prior criminal record.
"Mr. Devlin did not set out that day to commit a crime," said Zauzmer. "He just made some really terrible decisions in that one day that led to the loss of two lives and that's the reason the judge didn't see the need to impose a full guideline sentence but to impose punishment for what took place."
Devlin could have been sentenced to close to four years on the charge, which is the maritime equivalent of involuntary manslaughter.